Damn Right, It’s Buddy Guy’s Birthday: Still “Stone Crazy” After All These Years

buddy_guy_bbaddest Buddy+Guy Buddy+Guy+blues++++w+dixon++muddy+++budd Buddy Guy’s blues and soul spirit reaches everywhere. Here I was today, working on assembling my Buddy Guy tribute package as a tasty tie-in and preview to his pair of local shows later this week (Aug. 2 at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton; Aug. 3 at the Lowell Summer Music Series in Lowell), and listening to some of my favorite Guy guitar workouts, including some music from his brand new “Rhythm & Blues” album, released today.  And I didn’t even realize until just now that today, July 30, is Buddy’s 77th birthday.

For most of this morning, I had been smiling at the memory of happening upon his 1979 album, “Stone Crazy!” on the great Alligator Records label, at the old “Faces of Earth” music and crafts store in Amherst, Massachusetts not too long after it finally saw release in the U.S. in 1981. Hmmm, “Stone Crazy!” eh? Its title (and that exclamation point) held great promise. The picture of Buddy bringing a furious onslaught of notes looked pretty convincing too. The liner notes on the back cover sealed the deal, basically assuring me that my mind would be blown by this dude. Good enough for me. I paid the fare to take the ride, took  “Stone Crazy!” home, and fired it up. And immediately found out that indeed, the liner notes did not lie. My mind was, in fact, officially blown. And still is, on a regular basis.

 To this day, Guy remains a favorite, even if I tend to prefer the albums he made before the Grammys started raining down on his head like the liquid gold he so richly deserved being showered by. (I’ve never been big on celebrity guest stars larding albums by great artists; for my money, more pure, unadulterated Buddy Guy and less wanna-be show-offs like Jonny Lang the better).  

Here’s the full version of a memorable and wonderful interview the ever-gracious Buddy granted me back in the spring of 1998, and a feature I subsequently wrote about him for RollingStone.com, as well as my original review of his “Heavy Love” album published in the Boston Phoenix. Enjoy them, and the music below, on Buddy’s birthday. I know I’m smiling already.  I hope he is too.

Buddy Guy doesn’t think he’s much of a guitarist. But then, that’s Buddy Guy  for you. The man whose incendiary live performances have simply got to be heard  to be believed, the man whom Eric Clapton routinely calls “the greatest living  blues guitarist in the world,” the man who, after a lifetime of toil, hustle and  rejection is finally receiving the recognition — if not the commercial airplay — he so richly deserves, also happens to be one of the humblest people you’ll  ever meet.

“I’m not a great singer, and I don’t think I’m a really great guitar player,”  says Guy on the phone from his adopted home in Chicago. “But those things are  two halves and when you put them together, I guess maybe they make a pretty good  whole.”

Forty years and four Grammy Awards (all won this decade) into his career, Guy  — who turns sixty-two in July — is about to release Heavy Love (Silvertone), an album of sometimes snarling, sometimes soulfully burnished  blues that will undoubtedly put him in the running for a fifth trophy.

Last spring, Guy opened for the Rolling Stones on the closing date of their  U.S. tour in Chicago, and in July, he’ll kick off a tour of his own (with  teenage blues prodigy Jonny Lang) that should serve as a reminder of where  disciples from Jimi Hendrix to Stevie Ray Vaughan got their ideas about  hotwiring a blues-stoked guitar to amped rock and wrapping it up in a package of  fiery showmanship.

“When I pick up my guitar, man, I get excited,” Guy says, and you can  practically hear the smile spread across his face on the other end of the  line. “When I first came to Chicago, guys like B.B. (King) used to look at me  and say, ‘he’s gotta be on drugs.’ But I didn’t even know what drugs were when I  come here from Louisiana, man. I can’t just stand there. If I hit a note and it makes me happy, I’ve got to shout about it because I’m from the old Baptist church, man.”

Guy didn’t become “the greatest living blues guitarist in the world”  overnight. When he made the pilgrimage from his hometown of Baton Rouge, La. to  check out the post-war electric blues explosion in the late Fifties, his goals  were considerably more modest.

“I came to Chicago to hear people like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, not to  meet ’em, because to me that would have been unreal,” he says. “And when I  wound up shaking hands with those people I thought I had my Grammy and my gold  record. And here I am now, talking with you this morning and they’re no longer  with us. Hopefully, they’re looking down on me and smiling because they know I’m  trying to carry on.”

For many of those years between the time Guy began recording his own dynamic  brand of blues for the Chess label and success consented to meet him halfway,  carrying on hasn’t come easy. The story, of course, is a familiar one, rooted  mostly in the racism of a white mainstream’s refusal to play authentic blues on  the radio even as it embraced pale imitations of the form.

For Guy, it meant going more than a decade without a recording contract,  and surviving through endless barn-storming tours with harpist Junior Wells, his  great friend and longtime collaborator who died earlier this year at age  sixty-three. Before Wells’ death, there had been speculation in blues circles as  to why the two stopped touring together by the mid-Nineties. Guy says rumors of  a falling-out couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“I was with him until the last breath left his body,” Guy says of Wells.  “When we broke up, the media made it seem as if it was something between us, and  that wasn’t the case, man. What happened was that we were playing small joints  and every time we’d play, [the club owner] would turn the house over twice or  three times. To play forty minutes for someone who paid a few bucks to see both  of us wasn’t fair to the fans. We tried to make it work and just couldn’t do  it.”

But the fruitful Guy/Wells partnership, which had begun in 1965 and  produced several seminal albums, made the pair a favorite international touring  draw during the Seventies and Eighties — even if Guy couldn’t find a home for  his music. Forgotten amid all the young guitar slingers he had influenced, and forced to make ends meet — apparently, being merely one of the hottest blues guitarists and singers on the planet wasn’t enough to land him a decent record deal — Guy went to work at an automotive plant.

With traces of pain in his soft voice, he admits to becoming deeply dejected back then; cringing at the thought that his grandchildren might never really know or believe his true legacy as an electric blues pioneer. When they saw him, he wondered, would they think of him as anything more than just another old man on the assembly line? To record labels, talent scouts, and music executives, Buddy Guy was out of sight, out of mind. Invisible. Except he was always right there, waiting to play and perform; ready to record again.

“All the while when I was without a contract, guitar players like Eric  [Clapton], Jeff Beck, and Stevie Ray Vaughan kept saying, ‘I got this from Buddy  and I got that from Buddy, and the record companies were saying, ‘Well, who is  he? Is he white? How old is he?,'” Guy says. “I got reports back about ten years  ago of people saying I was too old to play.”

When Clapton invited Guy to perform as a guest at his annual Royal Albert  Hall concert series, however, his appearance made one thing abundantly clear: if  Guy was too old to play guitar, he was certainly fooling everyone with the  blazing fretwork and those blizzard-fast runs. Within months, Guy was signed to  Silvertone and began what is essentially his second career. It was if he had never been away. His first album for Silvertone, 1991’s Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues, featured  appearances by several of the artists who had championed him and introduced Guy’s guitar to a whole new generation of fans. The album won him his first Grammy.

Still, some things never change. It’s still a painful memory for Guy as he  recalls the time not during the 1950’s or 60’s but only a few years ago when a young disc jockey in his old hometown of  Baton Rouge approached him at the table where he was autographing copies of  Damn Right, his first gold record. The DJ told Guy that he loved the album but wasn’t allowed to play it on the air — because of Guy’s skin color. To some people (and their number is, hopefully, diminishing) all the gold records and Grammys in the world didn’t matter, apparently, and never would.

But Guy long ago proved to be more resilient, and certainly more talented, than all the racists and bigots and naysayers could ever dream of being. And through the bad times and the worse, Guy claims he’s never been a man to hold grudges or dwell on past hurts, past wrongs. He  just keeps plugging in and pressing on. He believes in his music, and the people who take a chance on it. That’s why he’s still here, doing what he does like nobody else.

“Being black and a blues player, man, you just hope you can get something out  there that radio stations will play,” Guy says. “The  biggest challenge for me is making a record that they can’t refuse to play.  Because I got a job to do, man. It’s a burden that’s been put on my shoulders by  Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed … all those guys. I’m trying to carry the torch for them.”

BOSTON PHOENIX: Buddy Guy, HEAVY LOVE (Silvertone). If it’s been awhile since Buddy Guy  got “Stone Crazy” on us, well, you can hardly blame him for playing it safe these days. Four decades into his career, one of the world’s greatest guitarists — blues or otherwise — is still trying to find the formula that’ll get him over to an audience that finally wised up to Bonnie Raitt and made Eric Clapton a multi-millionaire. So, on Buddy’s recent records, we’ve had to endure a procession of “special guest star” axemen like Clapton, Jeff Beck, and now blue-eyed teenage phenom Jonny Lang, who gets trotted out to duet with the Chicago-bred master on “Midnight Train”  — a good tune that would have been better without Lang’s redundant support (I’ve yet to figure out why anyone would buy a Buddy Guy album to listen to another guitarist). That said, this is his best in ages, precisely because the star cameos are kept to a minimum, and the setting is stripped to warm, soulful essentials that allow Guy’s guitar to cry, cavort, and ruminate on losing love, finding redemption — and nursing that hangover in between. The title track opens the disc with a muscular, funky groove that gives us what we came for: Guy’s- husky, arm-round-your shoulder vocals; and those mercurial solos loaded with angry, stabbing notes that sound like a lover’s door slamming.  Jonathan Perry

Listen here to one of the most ridiculously ferociously funky tracks ever put on record, Buddy Guy’s “You’ve Been Gone Too Long,” from his seminal 1979 “Stone Crazy” album (released in the U.S. in 1981) and then by all means buy this record: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfMP2kbCgLI

Listen to Buddy’s scorching “I Smell A Rat” from his equally scorching “Stone Crazy” album right herehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emoIEmJ9ktg

Read my original Rolling Stone.com profile on Buddy Guy here: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/damn-right-hes-buddy-guy-19980522

Hear and buy Buddy Guy’s new album, “Rhythm & Blues” here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/rhythm-blues/id662341640

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5 comments

  1. the review is as balanced as the music.I think part of the greatness of the music and man lies in the passion of the modesty and the rough elegance of the gitar work. Øf course I am a novice and much of what I know about Buddy Guy you taught me. a Peter

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for checking out the Buddy Guy piece Peter, and I’m humbled by your interest. Hope to continue to post pieces you enjoy. Mind if I use “rough elegance”? That’s a keeper.

      Like

  2. […] Damn Right, It’s Buddy Guy’s Birthday: Still “Stone Crazy” After All These Y… (rpmlifeinanalog.com) […]

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] Damn Right, It’s Buddy Guy’s Birthday: Still “Stone Crazy” After All These Y… (rpmlifeinanalog.com) […]

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  4. Reblogged this on RPM: Jonathan Perry's Life in Analog and commented:

    Some guitarist is opening shows for The Rolling Stones on their new “Zip Code” tour coinciding with the deluxe re-release of their seminal 1971 LP, “Sticky Fingers.” His name is Buddy Guy and they say he’s pretty good. Here’s a backstage message that Buddy and Mick taped before they dueted on the classic blues, “Champagne & Reefer.” (Sounds good to me!): https://twitter.com/MickJagger/status/613545424989855744

    Like

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